I wrote in this space that scoring early was a huge key to this game and it absolutely was THE story line. Florida put eleven points on the board in the first 3:48 and never went through the kind of scoring droughts that have caused the Gators some issues during their tournament run.
Joakim Defies Words
There has never been a UF athlete like Joakim Noah. Shoot, there may never have been a player anywhere like Florida's effervescent sophomore. Noah was spectacular and earned M-O-P honors with a 16 point, nine rebound effort with six blocked shots. He frankly scared the hell out of the UCLA inside players and dominated the glass with the assistance of Al Horford.
Noah also showed his personality throughout the post-game and showed the country just how much passion he has for the game, his teammates and his school.
Noah broke the NCAA record with 29 blocked shots in the tournament and finished the year just one shy of Dwayne Schintzius' school record of 96. He reminds me of Bill Walton in college from the standpoint that no one anywhere had a similar player. He simply does things others cannot do.
Gators Got the Point
Earlier I wrote how Taurean Green remained the key for the Gator basketball team despite al the attention focused elsewhere. Well, the sophomore point guard was simply spectacular in the National Title game. It sounds weird perhaps to hear that, considering Green scored just two points and was one-for-nine from the field.
But Florida didn't need points from Taurean. They needed court leadership. And they got it with eight assists and just one turnover. Green showed remarkable poise and patience against UCLA's vaunted defense and, as far as I'm concerned sucked the energy out of the Bruins' defensive effort.
Billy the Kid No More
Ten years ago Billy Donovan, with all of two years experience as a head coach was given the challenge of building a perennial contender at the University of Florida. Many thought it was mission impossible, including Donovan's mentor, Rick Pitino. Sure, Florida had enjoyed some success on the hardwood, but not consistently. Yet Donovan was not shaken, he was not dissuaded and he was not deterred. He got commitments from Ted Dupay, Brent Wright, Major Parker and Mike Miller.
And the studs just kept on coming.
This Gator team was not supposed to do much, but nobody told them. I picked this team to go 20-and-10 and was lampooned by many as a brainless partisan. Well, I was just a little less wrong than everyone else about what this team could do. Billy never put limits on this team. He never worried about offense, because he knew the talent on hand. He never wavered on his confidence that this team could do special things.
Billy Donovan didn't win SEC Coach of the Year because most votes went to Bruce Pearl or John Brady. He didn't get a sniff for national coach of the year. Those votes went to Jay Wright (Villanova), John Calipari (Memphis) and others. But Billy Donovan did do the best coaching job in college basketball this year.
Foley's Finest Moment
When Jeremy Foley hired Donovan ten years ago he received a fair amount of criticism. He went from an established coach who had made it to the Final Four to a guy who had been a head coach for less than two years. Well, sometimes a coaching hire fits in the category of high risk/high reward. I'm not sure how high the risk was, but the reward has been immeasurable. The Gators have the first National Title in the history of college basketball in the state of Florida. The Gators have been to eight straight NCAA Tournaments. And for now, the Gators have gone from afterthought to the very top of the college basketball world.
The Gators don't have to worry about losing their coach to the so-called big-time programs in part because Jeremy Foley never waited for the ultimate result to create an elite atmosphere surrounding the program. Foley made sure Billy was well compensated and the support mechanisms were are strong as they could be. He deserves a ton of credit for this incredible moment. And for the "chance" he took in the spring of 1996.
One More Salute
Nobody was more deserving of this win than Billy Donovan and his staff and players. We are happy to tip the cap to Anthony Grant, Donnie Jones and Larry Shyatt for jobs incredibly well done. Plus attaboys to trainer Duke Werner, strength coach Matt Herring and special assistant Darren Hertz as well as the best video guy in the business Adam Beaupre.
But I have to say no person deserve to enjoy this moment than my partner on Sun Sports/FSN Bill Koss. Bill played for the Gators in the early to mid 60's and has been supportive of Gator hoops ever since. Bill has given his heart and soul to Florida Basketball for about 40 years and was undoubtedly shedding tears in the closing minutes up in Indianapolis. Bill predicted this title weeks ago, though in the interest of honesty I must say he's done it before. But he loves this program with every fiber of his being. He's been on the air for 5 win seasons and controversial coaching changes. He has worked Gator games for a half dozen coaches and never wavered from his love for the University of Florida basketball program.
So while you enjoy this great win and greatest team in UF history, remember Bill Koss who has seen it all and finally got to see the ultimate, his Gators are the NATIONAL CHAMPS!!!